If you know me – and I mean really know me, not just through email and social media – you know I’m quiet. Some might use the word “shy.” It doesn’t really fit though. Someone who is shy is afraid to speak. I’m not. I love talking. Ask me anything – I have a lot of words stored up.
If you grew up with me, went to school with me or have even just met me once or twice, you probably always wondered why the old “never speak unless spoken to” lifestyle was the one I chose. My co-workers probably wonder why my spoken words are few. Anyone who has ever interviewed me for an internship or job has probably felt awkward when I stop talking after answering a question about myself or something I’ve accomplished.
You have to understand: it is not because I do not like you, or because I have nothing to say. It is not because I am bored, disinterested or a snob. And it is most certainly not because I am “shy.”
No. There is a much better reason than these.The truth is, if I’ve just met you, I probably do like you. Unless you’re rude, which isn’t even on purpose for some people. If you read this blog, you probably already know I have a lot to say, about everything (and then some). I never get bored, I always find ways to make something interesting, and I’m not a snob! I’m no better than anybody else. I like to think we’re all equal human beings with different personalities and skills. Some people are good at making small talk. I’m not. That’s okay.
Confession: I prefer the back of a room; a corner, if possible. I like the window seat on planes and trains. Sometimes I wear earbuds but don’t turn my music on. I walk fast and will only stop for two things: (1) someone who wants to talk to me or (2) Starbucks. If I know a route, I will walk it without paying attention, only to tune in while crossing busy streets and dodging the occasional “Caution: falling ice” sign (sigh). If you want to talk to me, if you strike up a conversation with me, of course I’ll take out my earbuds, tune back in and engage. I don’t mind participating.
But mostly, I’m comfortable observing. And always, always listening.
You see, I happen to be a writer. If you didn’t know, you do now. Not to say that writers can’t be extroverts, or good at speaking up. But not only am I a writer; I am also an experiencer. Though it may appear I am distracted, I am actually paying extra close attention to what’s going on around me. It’s important that I focus on it. Only later do I detach from the present, return to the information I have collected, and process it.
A long time ago, someone very important to me told me you can’t be a good writer unless you get out into the world and experience life. I’ve taken that to heart since then. I do a lot of things I’m afraid of, daily. To keep myself calm, to keep myself moving forward, I hang back. And I open my ears.
Does it look like I’m off in another world? Sometimes I am. When I get an idea for a story, it has the potential to consume me, and if I don’t have paper and pen or a note-taking app, I have to grab onto it before it slips away. I have a lot of thoughts. I have an idea notebook and I’m running out of pages. But that’s not always the case. I’m often listening to pieces of conversation as I move. How are people talking? What are they saying? What’s the story behind it? I don’t care about your personal life; I’m not trying to get into your business. I’m just experiencing. Because when I sit down to write something, I’m going to remember that conversation I heard, not for what was said but for how it was presented in real time.
It takes me a long time to turn raw data into a fully-formatted mental document of organized details. So when you’re talking to me, and I’m stumbling and not answering your questions the way you expect and standing there looking awkward, it’s because I feel awkward. It’s not your fault. You’ve just asked me a question on the spot, and I’m trying to make sense of it in my head. On paper or online, it’s easy. There’s time to think about it, time to arrange and rearrange sentences. I want what I say to matter, to make you remember. That doesn’t always happen fast enough. So you’ll walk away from me, wondering why I’m so shy, and as you turn the corner, I know exactly what I would have said ten seconds ago. But you’re already gone.
Please don’t think I’m being rude or that I don’t want to talk to you, because I’m not, and I do. Sometimes conversations just move too fast, and I miss my line in this continuous improv show we call “social interaction.” I’m not good at it. I know that. I’m not proud of it. And I try, really really hard, to get better. And if you’ve ever for a second thought I don’t talk enough because I’m stupid, that hurts. It really does. Intelligence blossoms in the mind, not always how it appears on the outside.
Maybe someday I’ll get up on a stage somewhere, doing something important, and I’ll open my mouth and words will come out. Maybe they’ll make sense; maybe they won’t. They might change someone’s life, or maybe not. That’s not important to me. What’s important is getting the message across that I can speak, I can say something that matters, something that makes you think, something you’ll never want to forget.
I just, more often than not, choose not to. I choose to listen. To process. And if my words end up in this blog or in a book or somewhere someone might read them, instead of being spoken aloud, well, I’m sorry. But that’s just the way I am.
Call me whatever you want to. Say I’m this, or that, or whatever. But don’t call me shy. Just talk to me. I’ll prove you wrong every time.
Image courtesy of Tales of a College Novelist.
A recent graduate with a B.A. in English and a completed major in nutrition, currently seeking a graduate degree in health communication, Meg is a twenty-something workaholic with a passion for writing, coffee and dietetics. In addition to her status as an aspiring novelist and Grammar Nazi (and the mastermind behind this site), Meg is an editor for College Lifestyles magazine and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine’s Stone Soup. She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner and has written several creative pieces for Teen Ink magazine. Follow Meg on Twitter.